Friday, March 1, 2024

Wusang’a – The African Waist Beads

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BOOK REVIEW

by Mwizenge S. Tembo, Ph. D

Emeritus Professor of Sociology

Harrison Muyeba Musonda, Wusang’a – The African Waist Beads: A Novel, 310 pages, Paperback, K168.00 ($7.99)

When the author Mr. Harrison Muyeba Musonda asked me to write a review of his book, Wusang’a – The African Waist Beads, I agreed. I have reviewed and published in academic journals over 40 book reviews going back to 44 years since 1980. In fact I love to read and review books. But when I read the title and casually read the first 3 pages, I was petrified like a frightened baby. Because I had not read a novel since 40 years ago in 1984 when I was doing my Ph. D.  course work at Michigan State University. The novel I read at that time is what is called a trash commercial novel that I do not even remember the title. The last time I read many novels was 52 years ago in 1972 as a freshman in my English 110 class at University of Zambia.

I was so uncomfortable about reading Wusang’a beyond the first 3 pages that I called Mr. Musonda and expressed my fear and anxiety. He gently persuaded me to try to read the book just as a mother would persuade a petulant baby to try a new food by sweet talking the baby to extend just a tip of their tongue to the edge of the small teaspoon of the food. I reluctantly began to read the book late that night. Casually reading the book reminded me that I am retired and did not have to worry about going to work early the next morning.

As I was reading Chapter 5 of the novel, I suddenly realized I was hooked as I began to be curious about the characters and what they would do next. As I was reading Chapter 17 a few nights later, I was so overwhelmed with expectations and curiosity about what would happen next to the protagonist Womba that I made a confession to my wife. I told her I was sleeping in the wee hours of the morning because I kept turning the pages of the novel breathlessly curious to find out what would happen next. My wife has read too many novels in her life. She teased and told me that I should finally now understand why she reads sometimes up to 4 am and will not turn off her reading light because she could not put down the novel she was reading.

 By the time I was reading Chapter 22 of Wusang’a,  I was devouring Wusang’a the novel like a desperate man who has a death sentence and wants to know what happened to all the major fascinating characters or protagonists before he is hanged. During the third night when I was reading the last Chapter 27 at the end, I had both a sigh of relief but also disappointment as I wanted the novel to continue so that I could enjoy what the main characters would do next. What would happen to their lives?

The unique challenge of reviewing a novel I have enjoyed reading is to avoid the temptation to tell the reader almost every detail that happens in the novel. Wusang’a – The African Waist Beads, is a fascinating story of the compelling influence of African traditions and culture. Wusang’a are the colorful beads young girls who have reached puberty and older women traditionally used to wear around their waists. The cultural practice was so common in Zambia and the African continent that hundreds of African cultures and languages call these beads by different names. For example, where the novel is set among the Lunda people in Northwestern Zambia the waist beads are called Wusang’a. Among the Ngoni in the Eastern Province of Zambia they call them ulungu. Among my own tribe the Tumbuka they are called mukanda. There are dozens of names up and down the African continent. The rich cultural significance of this dying cultural practice is at the core of the novel Wusang’a the African Waist Beads.

The novel Wusang’a the African Waist Beads describes the turbulent life of the girl hero Womba  starting from her rural village life in the remote Northwestern Province of Zambia to contemporary urban Zambia in the Copperbelt in the late 1960s. Womba is the daughter of Kumesa the village head woman and Chibofwa her father of Kayisalu village. The social changes, challenges, obstacles, failures and the successes she experiences reveals Womba’s grit, resilience, and strength. Womba’s life experiences also reveal that she would not have experienced success without close family support and especially the crucial role of Wusang’a or the waist beads. The beads are a powerful symbol of the clash between traditions of African society, impact of Christianity, and Westernization in Zambia and on the entire African continent.

Since the 1960s when African countries obtained independence from European colonialism as Zambian obtained independence from Britain, tremendous social changes have occurred. If you are a Zambian or an African who was young or a child during that period and you are now in your 60s, you were probably growing up in the village. In which case you will enjoy the familiarity of some of the social and cultural life of rural Zambia that you will encounter reading Wusang’a the African Waist Beads. I enjoyed reading about the village life and social changes that millions of Zambians and I experienced in the 1960s and 70s as Zambia was experiencing dramatic change. I grew up in the village in the 1950s and moved to Lusaka in the 1970s.

If you are Zambian, African, or non-African who are younger than 40 years,  Wusang’a the African Waist Beads will teach you about the cultural, economic, and social history of Zambian and African societies. The book is an excellent source of anthropological knowledge about the African society reminiscent of the earlier African writers from the 1960s such as Chinua Achebe, Ayi Kwei Armah, Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, and the Zambian Domique Mulaisho’s Tongue of the Dumb. and many other African writers. After teaching General Anthropology and Cultures of Africa in college for 31 years, this book would be an excellent supplementary text teaching the aforementioned subjects, students writing college papers, and even for teaching even Zambian and African literature. I highly recommend this novel for all readers because it is not only entertaining but it is very educational.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Congratulations! I shall support and also shall benefit my family and I. I shall encourage others to purchase as well.

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